Cerebral palsy can cause muscle spasms and many other hypertonic symptoms. The symptoms can be treated in a variety of ways, often starting with physical therapy.

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of motor conditions that affect the way muscles work, resulting in difficulties with movement, coordination, and balance. “Cerebral” means “brain,” and “palsy” refers to weakness or difficulties with movement.

CP can vary from person to person depending on the subtype (the way the condition affects the muscles) and the severity. Hypertonic CP is one of the most common types. It involves increased muscle tone, muscle stiffness, and involuntary movements.

Ahead, we’ll explore everything you need to know about hypertonic CP, including the possible causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

CP can develop as a result of damage in the areas of the brain that are linked to movement. Sometimes, this damage happens in the womb when the brain is developing, but it can also happen during childbirth or in the early years of a child’s life.

Damage to the areas of the brain that are responsible for muscle tone and movement can lead to hypertonic CP.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following factors can increase the chances that a child will develop CP:

  • genetic factors
  • certain health conditions in the child’s mother
  • premature birth
  • multiple births
  • low birth weight
  • treatments for infertility
  • childbirth complications

Congenital CP, which develops because of a genetic component, is by far the most common type, accounting for 85–90% of all diagnoses.

CP is a group of conditions, and the subtypes are categorized based on how the condition affects muscle tone and movement.

Hypertonia is common in CP, as is spasticity (a type of hypertonia in which the muscles spasm in response to physical movement). In fact, roughly 80% of people with CP have spastic CP.

In hypertonic CP, stiffness and rigidity in the muscles can lead to symptoms such as:

  • excessive muscle tone
  • muscle spasms or contractions
  • increased muscle resistance
  • decreased joint mobility
  • straightening of the limbs
  • spastic body movements
  • scissor-like leg movements
  • slower muscle movement
  • trouble with balance
  • gait changes
  • increased reflexes

CP can vary in severity from person to person. People with more severe hypertonic CP experience greater effects and more significant disability. Hypertonic CP can also occur alongside another form of CP, such as dyskinetic CP, resulting in mixed symptoms.

Hypertonic CP can’t be cured, but treatment can help with daily functioning and preventing complications. Treatment options for hypertonic CP can include:

  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy is an important part of CP treatment, especially in childhood, as it helps improve symptoms related to movement, muscle strength, and coordination. Other beneficial forms of therapy for CP are recreational therapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy.
  • Assistive tools: CP can severely affect someone’s ability to stand, walk, or engage in other types of movement — but mobility and orthotic aids such as walkers, wheelchairs, and braces can help. And assistive technologies can help improve a person’s ability to perform other day-to-day tasks.
  • Medications: People with hypertonic and spastic CP can benefit from medications such as muscle relaxants to help reduce muscle spasms and pain. Some commonly prescribed medications are botulinum toxin type A (Botox), baclofen (Gablofen, Lioresal), dantrolene (Dantrium), diazepam (Valium), and tizanidine (Zanaflex).
  • Surgery: Hypertonic CP can cause muscle, bone, tendon, and nerve irregularities, which can result in chronic pain. Surgical procedures that target these areas of the body, such as selective dorsal rhizotomy, can be beneficial for treating CP symptoms that haven’t responded to other treatments.

Insurance coverage for hypertonic cerebral palsy

Typically, most private and government insurance plans will cover at least some of the treatment options for CP, which is billed under ICD-10 code G80.9. Covered services may include checkups, physical therapy appointments, and surgery.

But even for people with mild CP, out-of-pocket and uncovered treatment costs can add up and cause significant financial strain. These costs are much greater for people with severe CP, who often need more frequent medical care.

Programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Security Income program can help with the financial costs associated with CP treatment for both children and adults.

Was this helpful?

A 2019 study suggests that the biggest factor in life expectancy in CP, including hypertonic CP, is the severity of someone’s impairment. People who experience more severe impairment because of their CP have a lower life expectancy than people with mild CP.

Still, many other factors can affect life expectancy in CP, such as whether someone has other health conditions and whether they have access to quality medical care. If you have concerns about how CP is affecting your or your child’s overall health, talk with your doctor.

Hypertonic CP causes changes in movement, balance, and coordination due to an increase in muscle tone. Most people with CP have the spastic subtype — a type of hypertonic CP that causes muscle spasms with movement.

While there’s no cure for hypertonic CP, several treatment options — such as physical therapy, medication, and surgery — can help greatly improve quality of life and mobility.